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Festung Europa

Littorio Infantry Division

By Francesco Mioni

The second division raised for the RSI Army was the infantry division "Littorio". It was sometimes called a "Grenadier" division, however this was title given for morale reasons in imitation of the German tendency to give units the title of Grenadier. The Littorio Division was not a Grenadier unit in the Italian tradition, in the Italian Army the Grenadiers were, and still are, the Guard units, formed from select (and usually very tall) soldiers. Only one such unit - a single independent Grenadier battalion - was part of the RSI Army.

The first commander was colonel Tito Agosti.

He had been captured in North Africa and interned in an Indian prisoner camp. Then he was repatriated, having persuaded the British that his serious mutilation had been suffered during the Africa campaign, instead of during the WWI as it had.

After 8 September 1944 Agosti placed himself at Graziani’s disposal.

The German training began in Sennelager, Westfallia, Germany at the end of Febraury 1944, with the arrival of the contingents from Italy (mainly the Piemonte region). On 25 August the division was transferred to Munzingen and Heuberg camps, replacing the Monterosa that had left them in July.

In the meantime the effective number of men raised from 16,000 to 18,500, of whom about 13,000 had come from Italy. 

The training, which was very hard (13 soldiers died during it), was completed at the end of October and one month later Littorio was deployed close to Gothic Line.

OKW intentions for the division’s duty were anti-partisan warfare, defending the supply lines of German units fighting in the Appennini, but Agosti, who had become a general, was opposed to this plan.

Littorio Fucilieri

Previous incarnations of the Littorio division had
already made their mark in Spain and North Africa.

Agosti, with Marshal Graziani’s intervention, obtained a place for Littorio on the western frontier.

Organization and Equipment

The Littorio Division had the same organisation of the other three RSI divisions: two infantry regiments and one artillery regiment, plus support and service units, with 18,500 troops.

• Division Headquarters
(Commander: General Tito Agosti).
2nd Recce Battalion
2nd Antitank Company
2nd Mountain Assault Engineer Battalion
2nd Signal Battalion
2nd Transport Battalion
102nd "Littorio" Replacement Battalion
Mountaineering and Skiing Military School
2nd MP section
• DVK 181  (Deutsche Verbindungs Kommando, German Liaison Unit)
• 3rd Infantry Regiment:
HQ Company;
Light Column;
103rd Cacciatori Carri (Tank Hunters) Company;
I, II and III Infantry Battalions
• 4th Alpini Regiment:
HQ Company;
Light Column;
104th Tank Hunters Company;
"Varese", "Bergamo", "Edolo" Alpini Infantry Battalions;
• 2nd Artillery Regiment:
4 Groups (=Battalions):
1 Group with horse-drawn 100/17 field guns,
3 Groups with 75/13 mountain guns transported by pack mules.
A Littorio propaganda poster

The battalion composition and the equipment was the same of Monterosa, with only one exception: the II divisional AT company had the German 88/71 guns and was entirely motorised.

The Scuola d’Alpinismo e Sci (Mountaineering and Skiing Military School) was peculiar: the purpose was to train division soldiers in high mountain warfare. Ten officers and about two hundred soldiers attended courses of lieutenant colonel Cremese, commander of 102nd "Littorio" Replacement Battalion.

The Alps Front

At midnight of 2 December 1944 Littorio completed its deployment along the Alps front, from Cima del Diavolo to Mount Monviso, between 34th German Infantry Division and 5th Gebirgsjager Division. Tactically Littorio depended on LXXV German Corps and had been reinforced with “Vicenza” artillery group and “Bassano” battalion of Monterosa.

The front line wasn’t continuous: it was formed by a set of block-houses, some of them armoured, deployed in depth and with different distances between them. It was mainly a front of patrol warfare. No second or third lines existed, only Piedmont valleys and Padana Plain. It was very difficult to supply the positions: horses were ill-suited to the terrain and the few mules available were almost all lost due to fatigue. The movement of supplies was left to Alpini and Fucilieri. 

The troops on the front line had to conserve their ammo and wood reserves in advanced positions during the harsh winter of 1944/45. In spite of the low temperature and heavy snow, there were not more than 50 frostbite/cold related cases and only two losses because of avalanches (the Germans, even if better equipped, suffered heavier losses). The soldiers from sunny southern Italy, the Sicilians in particular, distinguished themselves despite the alien conditions.
On the opposite side the French troops had no such supply difficulties and had huge supplies of ammunition available. They would use their advantage at every opportunity bombing and artillery barraging Italian positions even against very few soldiers or even a single man. The number of men available was also in French favour. In front of 3rd Infantry Regiment, for example, were deployed three Chasseur Regiments and at least four artillery groups, with 75, 105 and 155mm guns. 

So, after fifteen days of snowfall, on 18 December the Allies decided to test the Littorio defensive line. A French attack assailed 1st battalion, but was driven back. More attempts with the same results occurred in January, against 2nd battalion positions. French companies, supported by mortars, tried to occupied pill-boxes no. 8, 9 and 10 on two occasions. Initially they were able to penetrate the defensive line, but were immediately hit by Italian guns and mortars and repelled by the counterattacks of the pill-box garrisons themselves. 

MG Gunner

A Littorio soldier with a German
MG-42 off to the front.

75/13 Mountain Gun
In front of IV Alpini Regiment was positioned a French mountain brigade with an artillery regiment. They tried to force the line on 21 December near Traversette and on 8 January against 8th Alpini Company on Mount Rutor without results.

On 23 March a French battalion attacked Colle Traversette again, supported by a heavy artillery bombardment. The assaults continued without pause until the month’s end during which the area of fighting was extended to Roc de Ballaface and Rutor. The French were repelled and only occupied Roc Noir, losing about three hundred men. The Alpini lost 90 men during the assaults.

The stubbornness of French attacks along a secondary front (as the Alps was) can be explained in two ways. Most of the main Littorio positions, the IV Alpini Regiment in particular, were still in France and the French desired revenge against the Italians for the invasion of June 1940.

“Georg Plan”

When the Gothic Line was broken and Allied troops spread out into the Padana plan, the French began a last attempt to reconquer their national territory and occupy the Piedmont and Val d’Aosta valleys.

At the beginning of April (10) they tried a coupe de main against Roc de Bellaface, which was taken after some hard fighting. But the following day an Alpini counterattack regained the position, which was held until 29 April.

On 22 April the garrisons of Meyronnes’ (1st Infantry Regiment) pill-boxes held out a French battalion supported by artillery. The Italians were able to repell the attack thanks to a well forward observation post positions very close to the enemy positions. The Littorio’s artillery drop a barrage, sparing no ammunition, and were able to break the French attack.

Traversette was attacked on the night of 27/28 April, but 46 Alpini were able to repelled the enemy. At that point the entire IV Alpini Regiment was still deployed in French territory and none of their sector had been encroached on by the French. 

However the situation had begun to become unsustainable. 

The Alpini and most of Littorio units were fighting on two fronts: against the French, to prevent them from occupying Valle d’Aosta, and against the Germans, to avoid the destruction of factories, bridges and roads. For this reason more than one commander got in touch with the local partisan leaders, who were also interested in the same goals.

While, by about 25 April, some battalions, according to “Georg plan”, left the front to gain the “Ticino” Line and surrender to the Allies coming from the Po River (as 2nd battalion, after having reached Borgo S. Dalmazzo), others, as IV Alpini Regiment, maintained their positions until 29 April, according with CNL (Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale, National Liberation Committee, the main Italian partisan organisation). Only on 4 May did they cease their frontier duties, obtaining military honours from US troops.

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Last Updated On Tuesday, June 19, 2007 by Wayne at Battlefront